Chord Electronics Qutest ($1,895)

It’s a bit comical to compare a 1.7-pound DAC to a 45-pound one. It kind of reminds me of those earlier MMA fights with no weight class. The Denafrips Terminator is also more than double the price of the Chord Electronics Qutest.

First, the Terminator has a huge advantage in the power supply department. So in this comparison, I’ve powered the Qutest with a battery pack, which sounds much better than its stock PSU. I also have it set to Filter 3 and 4 (for warmth).

These two DACs sound very different – and will appeal to different tastes. The Denafrips Terminator is more transparent, quieter, with a vastly wider soundstage. It has more canvas space with a finer tip brush. This allows it to paint a very spacious and tall image. There’s a dimensionality and physicality in the way it articulates reflective cues in a venue.

In addition, there’s effortless delineating and rounding out of edges into more solid, tangible shapes. The Denafrips Terminator simply uncovers the acoustic terrain in a very profound way. These technical qualities of the Denafrips Terminator will surely win over many audiophiles.

The Chord Electronics Qutest has a much cozier and warmer presentation. It’s more heavy-handed in its approach as it paints with broader strokes. In fact, some might say the Terminator sounds a little hollow in comparison. The differences are stark.

The Chord Electronics Qutest is also more relaxed (not as energetic) – and placed more forward. Although not nearly as “holographic,” it does have naturalistic spacing. It also has a more convincing tone – which brings a richer perception of timbre. For what it’s worth, the Qutest is the best sounding DAC I’ve heard in its price range – by a long shot.

Essentially, if you’re a hardcore tone-snob, you may still prefer the Qutest. Otherwise, it’d be difficult to ignore what the Terminator is capable of – especially in the resolution department.

Chord Electronics Hugo TT 2 ($5,795)

The Hugo TT 2 has many of the traits of the Qutest, but its sonic performance is far superior (separation, body, tone, resolution). Consequently, it also sounds very different when compared to the Denafrips Terminator.

The Terminator still maintains a wider and taller soundstage and impeccable layering. It carries solidity and texture in a smooth fashion. And with magnificent speed. There’s just a lot going on spatially – filling up more of the air in front and around you.

With the Terminator, it feels like you’re sitting at the mixing board. It’s just cleaner, more exuberant, and “dreamy.”

On the other hand, the Hugo TT 2 is more porous, grounded, and earthy. Transients are also a tad softer – but in a natural way. It has a truer tone on both voices and instruments and is the more euphonic of the two. It’s invitingly rich and, like the Qutest, has a more tonally lifelike midrange. It’s undoubtly a top-tier DAC as well. Outside of sound quality, it also has its own built-in pre-amplifier.

Bottomline: The Chord Electronics Hugo TT 2 is more soulful while the Denafrips Terminator is more outwardly insightful and expressive. The tonal character of the Hugo TT 2 is more of my preference. But others may weigh the pristine nature of the Terminator more.

Chord Electronics DAVE ($13,000)

Interestingly, I’ve received many emails requesting a comparison between these two DACs. So I’ll spend a little more time here.

The Denafrips Terminator excels at a more expansive sound field, crispy transient definition, and musical layering. It imparts a larger atmosphere around the room and never sounds confused (seeing a theme here?). It also has slightly more solidity in the mids. This is most likely due to the better power supply. I say this because I’ve actually heard a DAVE that exhibited these qualities with a bespoke linear power supply.

I mean, given the big differences in footprints, something had to give right? Interestingly enough, the DAVE does have a slightly darker background. It’s calmer and quieter in nature.

As mentioned earlier, the Terminator has a layer of beautification and a “dreamy” glaze. While the Chord Electronics DAVE has a much rawer application of tone. There’s no lipstick or mascara here. That is to say, the Terminator is cleaner and smoother whereas the DAVE is more even-handed in its level of excitement – with a focus on exhibiting more grit and textural variations. More “pop” if you will.

As with the aforementioned Chord Electronics DACs, the DAVE has a truer and more faithful tonal color – which means more realistic timbre. This is evident when a recording involves a multitude of instruemnts and voices. The DAVE provides the proper contrasts within the gradations. This helps to preserve the unique resonances of the instrument’s material and a singer’s vocal cords.

In addition, there’s a purity, naturalistic resolution, focus, and coherence that makes the DAVE more believable. Which in turns makes it more emotionally involving to my ears. The Denafrips Terminator, however, does sound clearer and presents the tiniest pieces of information (like individual strings and percussive strikes) in a more “outlined” fashion.